Agamemnon is the first play of Aeschylus’ trilogy, the Oresteia. Aeschylus was the first of Athens’ three great tragedians; the others: Sophocles; Euripides. The Oresteia was also the first Greek tragedy trilogy written. As Greeks of this epoch focused on humanist ideas, so did Aeschylus. He devoted his genius to serious contemplations of humanistic questions, such as the nature of justice. Other humanistic values are honor, truth, compassion, loyalty, devotion to family and gods. He credits much of his success to Homer’s epics. It is helpful to have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey to understand the Oresteia. I will relate some background information from Homer’s epics as I recount a summary of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon.
In order to appreciate and understand this play it is essential to know some background information of the characters. A brief summary of the Iliad’s Trojan War is as follows: At the time of the war, King Priam ruled Troy. He was married to Hecuba, who according to legend bore him forty-nine children, including the prophetess Cassandra, and the handsome Paris. Hecuba had a dream that Paris would be the cause of Troy’s destruction when she was pregnant with Paris. Upon confirmation of the oracle that her son would cause the destruction of Troy, she agreed to abandon the newborn Paris on Mount Ida, exposing him to death. Nevertheless, Paris was saved and raised by shepherds.
Just before the beginning of the Trojan War, Zeus arranged to have Thetis, a goddess, marry Peleus, a mortal. All the gods and goddesses were invited except for Eris, the goddess of discord. At the wedding while all the gods and goddesses were enjoying themselves, Eris threw a golden apple into their midst wit...
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...laced a curse on her: although she would remain a prophetess, no one would ever believe her. Cassandra also envisions her own murder. She then goes into the palace after having asked the gods to give her a painless death.
Clymenestra kills Agamemnon and Cassandra, avenging the death of her daughter. The old men of Argos chastise her for killing the king. The chorus blames Helen, Clymenestra’s twin sister, for starting this war. Lamentation for Agamemnon continues regardless of Clymenestra’s claim that his death was justice, for it was her obligation to avenge Iphigenia’s death. Aegisthus, her accomplice, justifies their plot as rightful vengeance for Atreus’ (Agamemnon’s father) wrongs against Thyestes, Aegisthus’ father. The play ends as the chorus condemns Aegisthus and clings to the hope that Orestes will return to Sparta to avenge his father’s murder.
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